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Archive for the ‘Anything Goes’ Category

For someone like me who swears that McDonald’s Egg McMuffin is one of the finest fast food items offered on this planet or elsewhere, I applaud McDonald’s latest marketing announcement that breakfast will now be served all day long beginning October 6, 2015.

Although the thought of being able to order a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin any time I want makes my tastebuds blush and my feet tap lightly on the floor beneath my keyboard as I write this, I can’t help but wondering:

  1. Will breakfast items be prepared in bulk during regular breakfast hours and then nuked later in the day as they are needed?
  2. And if not—since McDonald’s fish sandwich is the second finest fast food item offered on this planet or elsewhere—will the McDonald’s afternoon menu eventually be offered during normal breakfast hours?
  3. Finally, by golly, is there any chance McDonald’s will offer to compensate me for “McBreakfast Yum your tummies all day long” marketing rights?

All I gotta do now is wait a bit before I drive into town and buy a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin for lunch.

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copyright© 2015 by Simply Tim’s Blog Spot

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I do not normally run around naked at 2 AM with the blue beam of a flashlight sweeping my roofline and treetops for the crush of a massive fallen tree.

An hour earlier I had been reading peacefully in bed, my softly backlit iPad wooing me back to sleep. That was when The Crash of Tuesday Last yanked me screaming from bed while outside the terrifying death-groan of an oak tree ripped chunks of timber and brick masonry from my rooftop.

Except for the naked part, I must have looked like a bare-footed Agent Mulder in an X-Files episode searching the treetops in the dead of night within the beam of an FBI-grade Magna-Light. Rain fell. I was cold. Thunder grumbled overhead. I found nothing.

The next morning, with the benefit of a spectacular sunrise, I searched again. I found neither fallen tree limbs nor damaged roof. Just another nighttime mystery.

Until yesterday afternoon when I opened the door to my spare bed/storage room and discovered my antique glass collection scattered on the floor. Errant pieces of of dark Depression Glass and shards of crystal bowls that had been gleaned through decades of countless yard sales and impromptu garage rummage events… gone, just like that. Turns out that an aging,  wall-mounted bookcase built in 1982 had finally decided it could no longer support the weight.

Some things are not meant to be. But the good new is part of my collection survived, along with idiotic mementos from my fragmented past.

How about that Pat Boone Speedy Gonzales record album? I won it as a prize back in the day, and managed to get it autographed by former Chief Justice, Earl Warren. My family was living near Athens, Greece at the time, and I was a Boy Scout competing in a swimming completion, and… well, that is  another story for another time.

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copyright© 2015 by Simply Tim’s Blog Spot

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Every so often I like to step away from the monitor, shove the keyboard tray back underneath the desk top, shut down the computer and printer, grab a three-hole notebook, find a trusty Parker ball-point black ink pen, and write for an extended period of time without auto-correcting spell checkers, grammatical underlines, back spaces, copy and paste functions, or any other active electronic or digital devices whatsoever.

Like right now.

This is when I rediscover just how far civilization has come; and how far my penmanship skills have degenerated since those days when I had a perpetual pencil callous on what I called my “writing finger”. As I browse my incomprehensible scrawling and try to decipher the squiggles and scratches contained in the sentences that immediately precede this one, I notice half-printed, half cursive characters — some slanting left, some right, sometimes above the line, sometimes below —  and cross-outs that look creatively impressive but do nothing more than cover up misspelled words or attempts at correcting misspelled words.

I suspect that handwritten lexicon is fast becoming a forgotten discipline of the past, and will soon disappear in the same manner as postal letters to friends, math without a calculator, multiplication tables, beer can openers, high-beam low-beam foot switches, crank-open side window wing-vents on automobiles, telephone cords, rabbit ears, glass quarts of milk with cream on top, dodo birds, or telling time on real clocks that have hands that go round and round and round.

Glancing down at my scribbled rough draft of this post, I just noticed I still have a writing finger callous after all. It’s on the inside knuckle of my right pinky, caused by the constant abuse of a hyperactive mouse.

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According to this recent New York Post * article, $750 million worth of gift cards will go unused in 2014 (down from $1 billion in 2013!). And here I sit, Such-And-So’s uncle who, like many lazy shoppers, prefers to avoid the hassle of plowing through crowds of unruly people waiting in line at gift-wrap counters and wondering if Such-And-So Niece has outgrown a ** Credit Card Barbie collector’s item. Instead, like many shoppers, my solution is straight forward: “Wow, I know —  I’ll just skitter across my keyboard and email Such-And-Such Niece a thoughtful and pragmatic $50 gift certificate!” 

How cool is that?

Still, three-quarters of a billion dollars worth of unused gift cards is a helluvalot of money. Lost? Forgotten? Ignored? Accidentally tossed in the trash or a musty laundry basket alongside Barbie’s credit card-swiped lengerie? Doesn’t matter, but nonetheless problematic to retailers everywhere. This cash-to-inventory imbalance has got to drive the bean counters absolutely nuts — much crazier than even those poor IRS folks whose 1-cent refund check I refused to cash many years ago. (How much did it cost them to process and mail me a one-penny check?) 

How do retailers reconcile unclaimed gift cards? I mean, when do they suddenly decide, “Oh, well, what the hell do we care? Let’s go play a round of golf.” According to that same New York Post article, a 5-year waiting period has been imposed on actions dealing with unclaimed gift card receipts, which causes myriad other problems. For example, “Only 50% of small businesses last approximately 5 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If a business does go under, consumers (and their gift cards) may have to get in line behind a creditor who could be owed millions of dollars.”

So, listen up all you nephews and nieces — here it is five years later and your Such-And-So, Social Security/Medicare-dependent Uncle wants his $50 back!

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* Originally published by Market Watch.

** Somewhere in my Simply Tim Way Back Machine archives, I wrote a brief rant about Credit Card Barbie. I will dig it up and republish it here in the future.

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copyright© 2014 by Simply Tim’s Blog Spot

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I bet I’m not the only one noticing how television programming has recently begun messing with us big time. Probably in retaliation for our recording more and more programs and later fast-forwarding through the commercials. Yeah. I’m talking about those start and end times that mysteriously add or subtract a minute or three to a television show’s runtime for no other reason than disrupting our viewing habits by snipping off a recorded program’s last couple of scenes.

Now, THAT’S some serious messing with us.

In my mind, there is absolutely nothing worse than losing the last 45 seconds of a “Longmire” or “Elementary” or “Castle” or “Da Vinci’s Demons” or a “Vikings” episode just before the whodunnit is revealed or some inconceivable secret is about to be disclosed or unspeakable act committed or a weapon is pointed directly at a major character’s heart.

Which is why I have begun a grass roots and strategic first-level counterattack campaign using my provider’s recording/Timer options to extend an end time by tagging on an extra 2 or 3 minutes of recording time to the scheduled end of a favorite program. Unfortunately, my counter attack has been short lived and I gotta tell you that television networks have already begun counter-counterattacking my devious counterattack, and satellite providers absolutely love it: by increasing the number of late-ending programming, standard satellite receivers can’t always record more than one popular program at the same time if program start and end times overlap by those silly 2 or 3 minutes.

Most cable/satellite companies don’t give a hoot how television programming messes with us or how frustrated we get trying to record our programming choices in their entirety. That’s because most of these satellite providers have come up with an expensive solution:

“ATTENTION VIEWERS: if your older receivers allow you to only record 2 programs at the same time, simply purchase our new “super-dooper” receiver package. Sure, it costs WAY more than your current obsolete receiver box, but it allows you to arbitrarily record up to SEVEN shows simultaneously — and, with over TWO THOUSAND hours of recording time!”

There are additional tricks lurking in the television programming arsenal of weaponry which affect us viewers, too. Here are only a few of them:

  • Miniaturized unreadable credits from the previous show running half-screen at a ka-zillion miles per hour and parallel to the new and current program’s miniaturized opening half-screen scene, making both the credits and the new opening scenes impossibly too small to see. What the hell is the point in having credits if we can’t read them — isn’t that the point of having credits?
  • Extremely large, cutesy and obnoxious animated teases that interrupt the program we are watching and inform us what shows will be airing later on in the evening. What — we are smart enough to reprogram DishNetwork or Direct TV’s start and end times but we’re too stupid to know which programs we want to watch?
  • The quickie flashback synopses at the beginning of new episodes that begin, “previously on…” yet rarely, EVER show us the closing scenes from the previous week’s show. You know the ones I mean — the same scenes that were clipped the first time because television programming was “messing with us”.
  • Inane informational pop-ups, TV station logos, and screen-crawlers that completely cover up CC Closed Captioning but only during critical scenes.

GOOD NEWS:

Thankfully, I have come up with a 100% sure-fire and fail-proof solution to resolve all start and end time recording issues. All you have to do is take out a small wire snip, carefully open your receiver’s hidden contro

“ATTENTION READERS: this blog post has been clipped due to arbitrary word-count programming changes.”

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(1953 – 1982)

For me, it all began in the 1950s, when I was a 5 year-old kid living in small town Freelandville, Indiana. Freelandville was quintessential Small Town U.S.A. where everybody knew everybody and crank-telephones still connected you to a town operator who knew everything about everybody. The town’s main street intersection contained a stone-faced bank, a creaky-floored hardware store, an OshKosh B’gosh general store filled with farmer overalls and assortments of straw hats. Catty-cornered from the dry-goods store was a drugstore and soda shop. Real milkshakes cost 10 cents, hotdogs were 15 cents or thereabouts.

PINBALL

South Pacific Pinball Machine

That soda shop was where my love for gaming began. I recall the day clearly. I was sitting on a red Naugahyde counter stool with my little kid feet dangling in the air. I was sipping a 5-cent cherry Coke, watching a red pickup truck pull up to the front door. That was when a man wearing coveralls delivered a game that would change my life forever, a “South Pacific” pinball machine.

The deliveryman set it up while I watched, goggle-eyed. Then he played a few test games. My mouth dropped open. The sound that jangled into my ears was exactly what every good sound that ever was or ever would be was supposed to be. The accompanying light show was hypnotic. If I had died at that moment my short life would have been complete.

When the man was gone — leaving behind not only a flashing and glittering machine, but one loaded with…  free games! — the mystery box continued to blink like Christmas tree lights beckoning me closer.

Standing on my tip-toes, I flipped and flapped the flippers with so much ferocity the soda shop lady took pity on me and dragged a wooden Coca-Cola crate over so I could step up on it to see what I was doing.”Push that button,” she instructed. “Then pull that knob and let it go to launch the ball.”

So much for 10 cent shakes and 15 cent hot dogs. From that moment on I was a nickel-pinball-machine-gamer-addict.

PERISCOPE & PONG

Periscope & Pong

For the next 20 years I played pinball games every chance I got. Then, in 1972, while attending college in Norfolk, Virginia, and doing homework in an off-campus coffee house, another red pickup truck pulled up to the front door and, I swear, the same man in coveralls delivered yet another machine that would change my life all over again: PONG.

I can still hear that dock-Dock-DOCKING sound effect and see a phosphorescent-green pixelated blip making fuzzy contact with a PONG paddle. I became so good at PONG I began playing for beers in-between bouts of studying and drinking coffee.

PONG — although not the first commercialized video game (that honor goes to Sega with the release of the “electro-mechanical” “Periscope” in 1968) — PONG’s shear simplistic popularity set the stage for yet another evolutionary nudge into the future of gaming; PONG’s monitor-based delivery system eventually opened a tiny crack in the video game universe, and the bigger, badder, faster color arcade games wasted little time leaping through the cosmic rift.

ARCADE GAMES’ GOLDEN YEARS

The late 1970s – early 1980s marked the nearly exponential expansion and popularity of what came to be known as Arcade games — IMO, direct descendants of pinball machines in that the guts of the games were encased in fancy wooden cabinets showcasing electronic bells and whistles and intoxicating video monitor-based light shows. Keywords here are monitor-based.

Although today’s gamers enjoy stunning graphics, unimaginable HD-quality imaging resolutions, and monster-sized monitors, it was not always that way. Back in the 1980s display sophistication was limited to CGA (1981, Color Graphics Adaptor — 4 colors), EGA (1984, Enhanced Graphics Adapter — 16 colors), VGA (1987, Video Graphics Array — 256 simultaneous colors), and 13-inch or smaller monitor screens. Think about that the next time you jack in to a modern FPS game boasting millions of colors.

CGA, EGA, & VGA Comparison

(For copyright consideration, click image to visit Jordan Mechner’s site. He did a very good job of combining 3 generations of gaming screen-resolution examples into a single image.  CGA on left, EGA center, VGA right.

I have never much enjoyed playing Arcade Games in a true Arcade setting kind of way. Too noisy, too hectic for me. Back then, I worked hard for a living; when I got off work I preferred to blow off steam in dark barrooms stocked with cold beer, a few top-ranked games, wild women and friends. We played for rowdy companionship, swag and bragging rights, and cold beer. LOTS of cold beer.

MOUSER’S FAVORITE 1970-1980s ARCADE GAMES

Space Invaders & Pac-Man

SPACE INVADERS by Taito 1978

Alien monster-thingies drop down from the sky and you have to shoot at them through rapidly disintegrating barriers before they land on your head and kill you. Upper level aliens get progressively smaller, faster, and increase in point value. I was fascinated by Space Invaders for several months. Space Invaders was a big hit world wide, expanding gaming awareness and opening up the marketplace for many more “get them before they get you” game development thinking.

PAC-MAN by Namco 1980

Everyone — even you young guys — are familiar with this one. Clear all the dots without being eaten. When I was a PM Magazine TV story producer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, we shot a 6-minute feature story on a dude who claimed he could “break” a Pac-Man machine by maxing out his score without dying. If I recall correctly, it took him about 6 hours. And — yes, he broke the machine. He refused to drink anything because a pee-break would cause instant death. Poor guy. “It’s all about memorizing patterns,” he said. Right. I got that. After the first hour — while my bored crew continued to video-tape  blinky, inky, pinky, and sue chasing Pac-Man around the screen, I was in the back room sipping beer and playing Defender, one of my all-time favorite games.

Defender & Joust: Man, oh, man — great games!

DEFENDER by Williams Electronics 1981

Defender absolutely and unequivocally kicked butt with a capital B, and IMO was the best 2-D starship-type shooter game of all time. I spent hours and hours perfecting my moves. In the Cotton Club lounge in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I hung out nearly every night after work, it was standing room only around this machine. Back then, a “multi-player game” meant that you played as player #1, and then player #2 got his chance. The game consisted of 3 rounds. The winner of the 3 rounds accepted a beer from the disgruntled loser, and the next player in line became the winner’s next opponent. Mediocre players had very long waits in-between defeats. Watching the Defender Video link I’ve provided here is a must do: the person playing the game is a Pro. Watch the DEFENDER video below and you will understand.

JOUST by Williams Electronics 1982

Williams Electronics took the gaming community by storm all over again when “Joust” was released in 1982. All stops were pulled: like Defender, sound effects were outstanding. Besides, how can you possibly be disappointed while mounted on top of a flying ostrich, searching for treasure-eggs while wearing armor, wielding a lance, killing bad guys and hunting for flying dragons?

It doesn’t get any better than that.

PAINTBALL: THE ROOTS OF FPS GAMING

One evening in 1982, while playing Defender for beers, I noticed a large lump smack dab in the center of my friend’s forehead. “How’d you get that lump?” I asked. It was an innocent enough question.

“Paintball,” he said.

“What’s THAT?” I asked.

“Playing WAR in the woods,” he said. “War with air rifles and plastic balls filled with paint instead of bullets. You wanna play?”

Dumb question. That weekend I hopped in the back of yet another red pickup truck with a bunch of serious-looking paintball warriors. It was about an hour before sunrise. Some of the guys had flashlights, and all were dressed in paint-covered camouflage fatigues. Did I mention serious-looking-warriors?  An hour later — the sun was just beginning to come up — we turned off the highway onto a private dirt road. As we neared our destination, I  glimpsed paint-splattered trees along the side of the road, illuminated by the flashlights. Spooky stuff. Several guys hooted and hollered and fired their weapons out of the back of the truck, a very loud cracking sound, followed by even louder pops as the plastic-coated paint balls slammed into tree bark.

The ensuing Paintball war was intense: running and hopping through poison ivy-ringed swamps, zig-zagging and sweating and swearing and slapping at mosquitoes, my heart pounding a ka-ZILLION times a minute. Shooting at real people. And man, oh, man, those paint balls hurt like hell! Come sunset, everyone was covered with blue and red splotches of paint, and — lots of welts. I had a killer lump poking out from my forehead.

I loved it.

DAWNING OF COMPUTER GAMES

Very few households could afford computers in the 1980s. They were too expensive for normal people. Besides — why would anyone ever need a home computer? Didn’t matter. I bought my first one in 1983. It was a $2,000 Tandy TRSDOS Radio Shack Model 4. The Model 410 Daisywheel printer cost $1,700 (you had to change the font wheel to type an italicized word, then change it back to the regular font wheel to continue), the 300-baud modem, $400. My Model 4 came with 64K of memory. And two, 5 1/4-inch floppy diskettes.

I thought I was ready for anything. But ZORK took me by surprise.

ZORK I: THE GREAT UNDERGROUND EMPIRE 1982

Zork was created in the late 1970s by Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling — students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When Zork was released 12 years later, I was hooked within minutes. I called in sick, holed myself up for a week in my darkened living room with lots of junk food and black coffee.

ZORK I wOw wOw wOw! Click for actual ZORK I screen captures and more information.

There were no graphics within Zork, no color other than a black and white and greenish screen, a TEXT-only fantasy game; you were presented a descriptive paragraph to which you typed in an appropriate response. Your response directed you to another descriptive paragraph of text. For instance (from memory):

“You are standing in a mountain field. To the East is a stone farmhouse. To the South is a meandering brook. To the West you can barely make out a pathway that leads to a dark forest.” Wherein you type: “GO EAST”, and hit the <Enter> key. “You walk down a path lined with flowers. A rusty gate bars your way to a two-story farmhouse. Just inside the gate on a cobblestone walkway you notice a paper bag.” You type: “Pick up paper bag.” You can’t do that. A rusty gate bars your way…”

By that afternoon my desk was overflowing with hand drawn map sketches, because it wasn’t until later that commercial maps became available. I was fighting Trolls with text, draining hydroelectric dams from within an underground control room, and floating down an enchanting river in a bicycle pump-inflated rubber raft in search of treasure.

“You are in a dark cave. A vampire bat swoops down from nowhere. Stinky bat-tails are wriggling up your nostrils. It grabs hold of your tongue…” I type: “THROW CLOVE OF GARLIC AT BAT!” “It is dark. You can’t find the garlic. You are — DEAD!” I type in something like: “Screw you!” and hit <ENTER>. The floppy drive’s busy light flickers. Computer byte-brains are flying out of the floppy disk bay door. The mighty ZORK responds: “I am sorry, but I do not understand the word ‘YOU’.”

Not only were those MIT programmers good storytellers, they also had a wonderful sense of humor. Do yourself a favor, search “Zork.” It is still available.

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This Mouser’s History of Gaming, Part I (1953 – 1982) is by no means complete, as it was written from my own unique perspective using games I played and loved. Many other games were set aside in this post for space considerations rather than lack of enthusiasm or importance. Today’s generation of gamers often take for granted the amazing parade of past technologies that were necessary in delivering us to where we are today.

I recall when TV consisted of 3 channels and when remote controls were science fiction. Back then, we had to get off the couch to change the channel! The gaming changes I have witnessed these past fifty years have often left me speechless. What games will YOU be playing fifty years from now?

You younger players certainly have a lot to look forward to just like I did when I was 5 years old standing at the edge of a pinball machine and seeing just a glimpse at the brink of a new universe.

Mouser’s History of Gaming, Part II will delve into the early 80s and beyond, quite possibly setting up a “Part III” along the way. Not sure. Time to play a bit. There are soooo many new games out there.

And for those of you who may be a bit confused about this “Gray Mouser” guy, he is my main in-game identity.

–Mouser/Simply Tim

© Copyright 2014 by Simply Tim  All rights reserved worldwide.

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